Library director Sol Hirsch to retire


In this July 8, 2009 file photo, Alachua County Library District director Sol Hirsch speaks during the grand opening of The Library Partnership community outreach facility at 1130 NE 16th Avenue in Gainesville.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer/File
Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 3:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 3:06 p.m.

The renovated, expanded Millhopper branch library and the Library Partnership neighborhood resource center on Northeast 16th Avenue are some bricks-and-mortar results of Sol Hirsch’s time in the community.

Since Hirsch started as Alachua County’s library director on Sept. 1, 2004, he has built a reputation for sound fiscal management and active community involvement, according to the local elected officials who serve on the Library District Governing Board.

For his part, Hirsch, 59, is thankful to have spent the last 6 years in what he sees as the best library director job available in the state. Still, he has yet to achieve his ultimate professional goal. But the time is coming. On May 31, he will retire.

“To me, the goal of work was always to retire,” Hirsch said.

During Hirsch’s tenure, the Library District funded the renovation of the Millhopper, Alachua Newberry and Micanopy branches and the Library Partnership, a combined library and social service agency hub on Northeast 16th Avenue, while lowering its property tax rate.

Offerings of programs for children and teenagers have increased. That includes the establishment at all branches of Snuggle-Up Centers to support early childhood reading and education efforts.

Community initiatives have included working with the Partnership for Strong Families on the Library Partnership and bringing the University of Florida’s mobile health clinic, a converted bus staffed by a nurse, to branch locations.

“He has changed the vision of how people think of the library,” Gainesville City Commissioner and Library Governing Board member Scherwin Henry said. “It was a staid, quiet check-out-a-book thing and he’s taken it to another level.”

Shawn Salamida, the president of Partnership for Strong Families, recalled a discussion with Hirsch on the nonprofit family support organization’s plans to open a community resource center in east Gainesville’s 32609 ZIP code in response to a high rate of child abuse cases in that area.

Hirsch chimed in that he also wanted to bring a library to that area. That was the genesis of the Library Partnership — a shared full-service library and community resource center that allows residents access to aid from some 30 social service agencies.

Last fall, the partnership received national recognition from Harvard University’s Bright Ideas program as an innovative government project.

“One thing Sol said is not every community’s library can do this,” Salamida recalled. “I said that’s because not every library has Sol Hirsch. He’s a great partner, an innovative thinker and he’s always looking for ways to meet the community’s needs.”

The Library Partnership is now the model for a planned resource center that the grassroots nonprofit organization Southwest Advocacy Group (SWAG) plans in order to serve the low-income apartment complexes in the urban area west of Gainesville’s city limits. Library staff and programs will have a presence, but not a full-fledged branch, at the planned SWAG center.

Dorothy Benson, the president of SWAG, said that, as a novice community activist, she continually went to Hirsch for advice in establishing the organization and solidifying its plans for a resource center.

“I always felt if Sol Hirsch said I was on the right track, I needed to keep doing what I was doing,” Benson said.

Prior to taking the Alachua County position, Hirsch spent nine years as the assistant library director in St. Johns County.

Before that, he spent 15 years in Miami-Dade County, first as an assistant library director and then as a budget analyst in the county manager’s office. In that position he worked with the financing of major construction projects, including jails, an area of expertise he brought to Alachua County.

County Commissioner and Governing Board member Lee Pinkoson said Hirsch was an “excellent steward of taxpayer money” who built on a strong foundation left by his predecessor, Ann Williams.

Besides the managerial aspects of the job, Hirsch said he always believed libraries played a role in making the local community a better place.

“It is an idea staff has embraced totally,” Hirsch said. “They like to see the fruits of their work. Our goal has been community librarianship, to provide not just the best library services but to help make the community better.”

As he nears retirement, Hirsch has earned more national recognition. In February, the American Library Association named Hirsch the recipient of its 2011 Peggy Sullivan Award for Public Library Administrators Supporting Services to Children.

The organization noted his work with the Library Partnership, the Snuggle-Up Centers and the Library District’s high school intern program.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or chris.curry@gvillesun.com.

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